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Time for de Blasio to Make 111th Street Safer Without Waiting for James Lisa and Queens CB 4

1:31 PM EDT on March 22, 2017

VFW Post 150 was at maximum capacity for last night’s Queens CB 4 meeting. Photo: David Meyer

Residents of Corona have been fighting for safer access to Flushing Meadows-Corona Park on 111th Street for three years. They've marched in the street and rallied at City Hall. They've made their case to Queens Community Board 4 in person, describing how threatened they feel crossing the highway-like street with their kids to the get to the park.

Against their campaign for a street where they feel safe walking or biking to the park, there is James Lisa, the co-chair of Queens Community Board 4's transportation committee who lives on 111th Street and donates generously to Assembly Member Francisco Moya, the politician who has done the most to block the redesign.

Last night, Lisa prevailed, with the full board voting to table a decision on DOT's plan for 111th Street. A vote to delay, at this point, is tantamount to a vote against the project.

City Hall can move ahead with the redesign without a vote in favor. Letting Albany politics dictate street design policy was never a good move by Mayor de Blasio. But even Moya is on the record supporting the design that DOT presented last night, which has already been watered down to appease Lisa.

More importantly, it's simply cruel to keep in place dangerous crossings with high-speed traffic when a better design is ready to go and so many people have campaigned for safer conditions for so long.

DOT's updated 111th Street plan (top) maintains two southbound traffic lanes and omits marked crosswalks included in the original plan (bottom). Images: DOT
To appease James Lisa and Francisco Moya, DOT's current 111th Street plan (top) maintains two southbound traffic lanes and omits marked crosswalks included in the original plan (bottom). Images: DOT
DOT's updated 111th Street plan (top) maintains two southbound traffic lanes and omits marked crosswalks included in the original plan (bottom). Images: DOT

Last night, more than 100 supporters of the project packed into VFW Post 150. But CB 4 doesn't allow public comment until after the board finishes its agenda. So instead of hearing from residents before the vote, board members got a 10-minute rant from Lisa.

"All this [that] they're talking about is going to destroy the Corona Heights' ability -- the cars to have mobility to get out of Corona," he said. "Their proposal is skewed. It's not logical, and it makes no sense to residents of the community."

The board is not monolithic, and many members expressed support for the project. Several even wanted to go farther to calm traffic and shorten crossing distances.

City Hall has held off on the 111th Street redesign in deference to the wishes of James Lisa, pictured here in the middle of a 10-minute rant agains the project. Photo: David Meyer

"We cannot be greedy with other people's lives," board member Alirio Orduna said. "They've got the right to have a bike lane. There's no problem with that."

But Orduna himself motioned to table the proposal, apparently because he wanted DOT to explore ways to make it safer. The end result, however, was what James Lisa wanted: more uncertainty.

After the vote, board members got an earful from people who came to testify. But by the time the floor was open to the public, it was already 9:45 p.m. and more than a few board members had left.

"DOT did a lot of good work, and all their work was ignored tonight," said Eric Harold, a Flushing resident who's frequently in Corona to care for his elderly mother. "I'm a grown man, I know the risk [biking on 111th Street]. We have kids out here who don't know the risk, and they're in danger. And you know what? You guys decided to do nothing."

Tensions were high last night after longtime CB 4 member Ann Pfoser Darby, who along with Lisa voted down the original plan in 2015, said at a committee meeting that a bike lane on 111th would not be necessary once the Trump administration deports undocumented immigrants. Asked about the project later that week, DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said she was committed to the project but wanted to see how CB 4 voted before deciding how to move forward.

It's not clear what DOT intends to do now. "We'll share tonight’s feedback with the full team at DOT and will report back on next steps soon," agency spokesperson Scott Gastel told Streetsblog after the meeting.

"For three years, the experts at the Department of Transportation have done extensive studies and outreach," Council Member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, who has pushed for the project for years, most recently at a November rally on the steps of City Hall, said in a statement. "We cannot wait any longer. I urge Mayor de Blasio to move forward with the Vision Zero plan for 111th Street immediately."

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